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Iran alert: Exchange with the Guardian

 
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David C
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Post Post subject: Iran alert: Exchange with the Guardian Reply with quote

This exchange relates to our Media Alert of March 17, 2009, titled 'Selective Vision: Iran, Israel and Nuclear Arms'

http://www.medialens.org/alerts/09/090317_selective_vision_iran.php


________________________________________
From: siobhain.butterworth@guardian.co.uk [siobhain.butterworth@guardian.co.uk]
Sent: 19 March 2009 9:14 AM
To: Cromwell D.; reader@guardian.co.uk
Cc: rory.mccarthy@guardian.co.uk
Subject: Guardian article 23 February 2009

Dear David

Thank you for your email of 23 February addressed to Rory McCarthy and cc’d to me. I apologise for the delay in responding. The delay is mine, rather than the journalist’s - he responded with his comments immediately.

The article concerned an Amnesty International report about the weaponry used in the Gaza war earlier this year called “Fuelling conflict: foreign arms supplies to Israel/Gaza”.

You complain about this sentence fragment:

"For their part, Palestinian militants in Gaza were arming themselves with
'unsophisticated weapons' including rockets made in Russia, Iran and China, it said."

In fact, the complete sentence reads:

"For their part, Palestinian militants in Gaza were arming themselves with
‘unsophisticated weapons’ including rockets made in Russia, Iran and China and bought from ‘clandestine sources’, it said."

The journalist did not, as you suggest, make any allegations about who directly supplied the weapons to Hamas or other Palestinian groups - he attributed the supply to "clandestine sources", which is what the Amnesty report said:

"Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups have smuggled small arms, light weapons, rockets and rocket components into Gaza, using tunnels from Egypt into Gaza; this weaponry has been acquired from clandestine sources." (page 30)

The journalist tells me that in an accompanying press release Amnesty stated:

"Meanwhile, in southern Israel, Amnesty saw the remains of “Qassam”, Grad, and other indiscriminate rockets fired by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups against civilian areas. These unsophisticated weapons - smuggled into Gaza or constructed from components secretly brought in from abroad - cannot be aimed accurately and do not compare with Israeli weaponry, but have nevertheless caused several Israeli civilian deaths and injuries, and have damaged civilian property. As Amnesty’s report shows, this weaponry is originally made in Russia (or the Soviet Union), Iran or reportedly China, but actually acquired from clandestine sources."

The article does not say or suggest that Amnesty alleges that weapons were acquired directly from the countries mentioned. I do not consider that it is misleading or that a correction is required.

Regards

Siobhain Butterworth
Readers' editor
The Guardian
T +44 (0)20-33534720
Guardian News & Media has moved. Our new address is:

Kings Place
90 York Way
London N1 9GU
Tel: 020-3353 2000

--

Reply, dated March 23, 2009:

Dear Siobhain,

Many thanks for your response. You write that I omitted the phrase “and bought from ‘clandestine sources’” in Rory McCarthy’s piece where he wrote:

"For their part, Palestinian militants in Gaza were arming themselves with‘unsophisticated weapons’ including rockets made in Russia, Iran and China and bought from ‘clandestine sources’, it said."

But in a follow-up email sent on March 23, after I asked you to investigate further, you said that: “the article was amended after it was uploaded at 9:14 am on 23 February (the article history says it was last updated at 12.40 the same day)”

The version that I quoted from is the one that was time-stamped 9:14 am. You also said that Rory McCarthy told you that the sentence appeared in full in his original copy. However, your response does not rule out the possibility that a sub-editor deleted “and bought from ‘clandestine sources’”, then later reinstated it. It is, of course, also possible that I made an unintentional error in not citing McCarthy’s full sentence, but that seems highly unlikely (it's hard to cut and paste a quote while omitting a section in the middle of the quote). It is both unsatisfactory and frustrating that the Guardian can no longer locate the 9:14 am version of his piece to settle the question.

In any case, this is somewhat of a red herring. I did not claim that your reporter had made “allegations about who directly supplied the weapons to Hamas or other Palestinian groups.” That sidesteps the central point: that Amnesty was +not+ the source of allegations about the origins of Palestinian rockets. McCarthy was wrong to say “it [Amnesty] said.”

You quote the ambiguous phrase in the Amnesty press release, “As Amnesty’s report shows, this weaponry is originally made in Russia (or the Soviet Union), Iran or reportedly China, but actually acquired from clandestine sources."

In fact, Amnesty had merely cited the publication 'Janes Defence Weekly', a military journal, and was not itself in a position to verify the claims. As the Amnesty report made clear, the claims actually originate from Israeli and Egyptian security and police sources. Such claims should be treated with extreme caution and, at the very least, should have been correctly attributed by the Guardian.

Amnesty was also careful to point out that: "There have been several reports that Iran has provided military equipment and munitions, including rockets, to Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups but Amnesty International has not seen any evidence to verify these allegations."

Rory McCarthy’s report omitted this important finding. Why?

The overall effect is to leave the reader with the distinct impression of a link, even if indirect, between Iran and “Palestinian militants.” Given that Iran is currently in the crosshairs of Western firepower, journalists need to exercise considerable care to report with clarity and not omit important details.

Best wishes

David Cromwell

===

Siobhain Butterworth's response dated March 23, 2009:

Dear David

It seems to me highly unlikely that a sub deleted "clandestine sources" and then reinstated it - there would be no reason to do that. I will be interested to see whether you publish a correction or clarification about this.

I don't agree that readers were misled by the piece. And, as far as I'm aware, Amnesty have not complained about it.

Best wishes

Siobhain Butterworth
Readers' editor
The Guardian
T +44 (0)20-33534720


---

And so, again the Guardian ignores the main charges: that the claims about the sources of weapons were wrongly attributed to Amnesty; and that the article pushes a dubious propaganda link between Iran and "Palestinian militants."
Mon Mar 23, 2009 7:06 pm
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